Manchester is a great city in which to be a tour guide because as well as having a fascinating history, there are lots of exciting things happening now or planned for the future. There is a lot to see, but one of the most interesting things for many Mancunians is not what we can see, but what we can’t.

Two years ago Keith Warrender’s first book, Underground Manchester – secrets of the city revealed, introduced Mancunians to a lost and mysterious subterranean world beneath the city streets. It was a fascinating introduction to everything from the canal tunnels that pass underneath Deansgate to the nuclear bunkers below Chinatown.

My guiding colleague, Jonathan Schofield wrote a great review at the time and went down some of the tunnels with Keith himself.  You can read his piece in the Manchester Confidential archives.

Some readers may have seen Andrew Brooks’ Reality Hack – Hidden Manchester photography exhibition at Urbis that brought the tunnels to life in exquisite detail.

One of Keith’s key conclusions from the book was that the tunnels should be turned into a tourist attraction. Both Jonathan and Keith separately receive many requests to lead guided tours into the tunnels. Unfortunately, these are only rarely available.

Some people make their own way below ground and you can read the reports of Manchester’s urban explorers on the excellent 28DaysLater website. Although, some of the more interesting stuff on the website recently has been high above ground – when the intrepid explorers have climbed-up building cranes or got on the roof of Manchester’s taller buildings.

Back to the tunnels and the success of the first book has inspired Keith to write another, Below Manchester – Going deeper under the city. In this book he revisits some of the areas explored in the original title and investigates others – some suggested by people who approached him after Underground Manchester came out.

The new stuff includes the tiled subways beneath the complex of Cooperative buildings between Balloon Street and Miller Street. There are also air raid shelters under the Coop buildings and what is described as a “cold war refuge”.

One of the most interesting things for me is the extra detail and colour (great photos) that Keith provides about the nuclear bunker known as Guardian, but nothing to do with the newspaper. He provides a wonderful insight into how it was built, using Irish labour and Russian equipment(!), and what it was used for – basically as a back-up for national and international telecommunications in the event of a nuclear war.

I recommend the book but I also want something more. Thanks to the aforementioned Jonathan Schofield, I recently got to go down to the canal tunnels below the Great Northern that were drained and used as air raid shelters in WWII. It was brilliant. Great history, great architecture and, …well okay, a lot of mud.

I am convinced that there is a tourist attraction to be made out of the tunnels. I spoke to Keith Warrender earlier this week and he remains certain that this could be done.

Both Liverpool and, more recently, Newcastle have opened Victorian tunnels to visitors. Why not Manchester? I am going to put this question to Visit Manchester and to the City Council.

I am surely not the only person to have thought about this. If anyone else has any ideas on how to get the tunnels below the city turned into part of the Manchester visitor-experience then please contact me.

It’s time that we all got the chance to explore “what lies beneath”.

Chris

Both books are published by Willow Publishing of Timperley.

More pictures of Underground Manchester are available on the web, for example here:
Urban Exploring

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